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Grotius and Empire

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On Andrew Fitzmaurice ‘Sovereignty, Property and Empire 1500 – 2000’

image of Grotiana

This article reviews Andrew Fitzmaurice’s recent book Sovereignty, Property and Empire 1500–1800 with a critical examination of the author’s analysis of Hugo Grotius. Unlike other works of intellectual history that focus on the relationship between empire and political theory, this book offers a refreshing account of how Western political thought also provided a critique of empire. Using the law of occupation to explain the origin of property and political society, Fitzmaurice demonstrates how ‘occupation’ was used to both justify and criticise extra-European imperial expansion. His analysis of Grotius is centred on ‘occupation’, explaining that even though Grotius’s political thought supports an imperialistic thesis, there is also evidence of anti-imperialist sentiments running through his works. I argue, however, that whilst Fitzmaurice provide a sound and interesting account of the role occupation plays in explaining Grotius’s two different accounts of property in De Indis and De jure belli ac pacis, he disregards the broader philosophical implications this has for Grotius’s theory of property.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa,


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